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Something the Virginia shootings taught me — turn off autoplay in Twitter

August 27, 2015
Alison-Parker-and-Adam-Ward

Adam Ward and Alison Parker, who’s murders Wednesday, in Roanake, Virginia, USA, were unwittingly seen by millions on social media. — WDBJ7

The murders of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward yesterday (August 26, 2015) in Roanoke, Virginia, while they were broadcasting an interview on the southwest Virginia CBS TV affiliate WDBJ7, were made all the more shocking by the way that the alleged killer, a disgruntled ex-TV station employee, co-opted social media in order to trick the world into watching his hateful act.

It was too easy; all he had to do was take the first-person video that he recorded as he committed the killings and upload it to his Twitter and Facebook accounts. Then he was free to go off and reportedly commit suicide, leaving who knows how many other social media users to do his dirty work for him.

Within minutes of the alleged killer posting his first-person shooter-style video to Facebook and Twitter, both services had disabled his accounts — Twitter reportedly did so in only eight minutes. But minutes are hours on social media and an untold number of Facebook and Twitter users — many of them media outlets — had time to reblog and retweet the video into their accounts and thus into the feeds of all their followers.

Twitter and Facebook both set all videos to play automatically — if they turn up in your feed, you can hardly help but watch them — so potentially millions of social media users were forced to watch the video, either because they followed one of the many people and media outlets which reblogged the video, or (in my case) they clicked on the #VirginiaShooting search hashtag in a tweet.

Turning off a feature which has always turned me off

turn-off-twitter-autoplay-web

An autoplaying GIF showing how to turn off autoplay on the Twitter web client.

Here are clear instructions from TechRadar explaining how to turn off the autoplay feature in the the various web, iOS and Android clients for Facebook and Twitter.

Lightning propagation of content may be an essential core feature of social media but autoplay is just an unsightly zit; a sop to advertisers and an eye-candy component of the “dumbing down” of social media, to make it less hard for new users to get into.

There is much irony in the fact that both Facebook and Twitter are trying to remove even more of the thinking from the using of their social media platforms, considering how social media itself is routinely accused of “dumbing down” the world,

In any event, I think that turning off autoplay, in Twitter at least, results in a better user experience. It should even improve load times, so it’s kind of the social media equivalent of setting Adobe Flash Player to click-to-play.

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